Tiananmen Square Famine

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The Tiananmen Square Famine, or Beijing Famine, was a 1990 protest by the poor and homeless communities, and their allies, in Beijing, China. It lasted from May 10th, to June 4th, peaking at approximately 4 million attendants.

Demands & Participants

The demands of the Tiananmen Square protestors were solidified on May 15th, laid out below.

  • An end to the criminalization of homelessness in China
  • Universal housing policy within the next two years
  • Universal Basic Income within the next two years

The various notable groups which participated in the Tiananmen Square Protests.


The Tiananmen Square Famine was primarily hunger protest, and as such, involved a large number of individuals inducing starvation in themselves. Protestors would sit, stand, or walk in place in the square, without consuming anything besides water for days, or even weeks. Other methods included sleep protests, where people would go long periods of time without sleeping, both to induce guilt, and to acquire the appearance of overworked, tired, and starving homeless or poor people.


The first 16 protestors arrived on May 10th, one day after the demolition of a small homeless camp in the city center. The protestors were residents of the camp that was destroyed. Over the next four days, the protests would grow in size to several hundred people.

Rapid Growth

The protest's period of rapid growth began with the 閃電學說(Lightning Doctrine), which was formed on evening of May 15th. The Lightning Doctrine stated that the protests must strike like lightning to be truly effective, that a strong protest which overwhelms the ruling Kuomintang, even at the cost of stability. This prompted the strong recruitment of citizens from across Beijing through fliers, the hijacking of school PA systems, and other methods, calling for the attention of international actors. From May 16th to June 4th, this growth would increase dramatically.

Government Response

The response started by the government declaring martial law in Beijing on June 2nd, and ordering the 2 million protestors to disperse by sundown, or face penalties. The Chinese government also secretly ordered a large portion of its military forces to reroute to Beijing. This announcement only emboldened the protestors, who began to reach out, and gathered more than 2 million protestors by the next day.

On June 3rd, approximately 4-5 million people gathered in Tiananmen Square to mock the government's attempt to disperse them without meeting any demands. The government began to covertly escort its military assets into areas around the square.

June 4th Massacre

The June 4th Massacre, Tiananmen Square Massacre, or Beijing Slaughter, was the third day of the response to the protests. At 9:00 AM, the KMT issued a statement that the protestors must evacuate the square, or they may face forceful removal. Attendance dropped as many protestors became knowledgeable of the government's intent, but more than 1 million protestors were still present by 10:00 AM. At 1130 AM, The KMT ordered the Chinese National Army to disperse the protestors, warning the participants that soldiers may take any measure to enforce martial law.

The Chinese National Army emerged in APCs from the west, and tanks from the east at 12:00 PM. Protestors began to throw rocks, bottles of water, urine, and alcohol, or bricks at the vehicles. Attempts to get the vehicles to stop were unsuccessful, and the protests very quickly cleared up, with the exception of more than 200,000 protestors who were unwilling or unable to evacuate, most of them rendered immobile due to muscle atrophy and sleep deprivation.

The KMT issued one final announcement to evacuate at 2:00 PM, and immediately afterwards, began firing on the remaining protestors.

By 5:00 PM, the square was declared clear, with an unclear fatality count, estimations ranging from 50,000, to all 200,000+, with no hostages taken.